1953 Secretary-General of British African Voice Association (‘African Voice’)
1961 Chairman Umvuma Branch of NDP
1961 Provincial Organizing Secretary NDP (Victoria Province)
1962 Provincial Administrative Secretary, ZAPU
1964 Deputy Organizing Secretary, ZANU
1971 Secretary for Law and Order, ANC
1972 Deputy Administrative Secretary, ANC (Lusaka)
1975 Member Central Committee, ZANU
1980 M.P. for Midlands. Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister, Zimbabwe
Simon Muzenda was born at Gutu, in the Victoria District on the 28th October 1922. His parents were peasant farmers who lost their two youngest children, apparently from a virulent malaria sickness, within three days in 1942. He had his three brothers and a sister, but “only one, whom I came after.” (the sister) survives today; for his elder brother was killed in a car accident two days after visiting him in Lusaka in 1975.
Young Simon was brought up by his grandmother who sent him to Nyamande Primary school at the age of 14, after he had performed his customary duties as a young boy herding cattle.
In 1944 he moved to Domboshawa where he trained from standard 6 as a teacher. He refused to become a demonstrator in agriculture because he discovered that a major part of is task was the killing of cattle in the government de-stocking programme and would throw him into conflict with the views of his own family as cattle owners.
“My English teacher advised me to go to South Africa. So I went, stopping on the way in Bulawayo with my elder brother. Then, without telling him, I went along to Empandeni Mission and asked for a teaching post. They sent me to Semukwe Reserve where I taught for four months, earning £10 for my services between January and April”. In the meanwhile, Simon Muzenda had applied to study for his Junior Certificate at Marianhill in Natal. Once again he set off southwards from Plumtree, in Matabeleland, but went all the way to Cape Town. He stayed at St. Mary’s Cathedral, studying in the evenings, doing his commercial J.C. and, after passing his examinations, went to Marianhill where he completed a three-year carpentry course.
He spent the next two years instructing carpentry at Mayville in Durban at the Mazenod Catholic school and during that time corresponding with a study institution to achieve four subjects for his National Senior Certificate.
He had already met his wife when they were at school together, and in 1950 he returned to Rhodesia and married his young sweetheart in Fort Victoria (Masvingo). The couple returned to Bulawayo where Simon got a job as a clerk in a plywood factory and then he moved to furniture factories – Modern Furniture and later, Wilfred’s Mart where he could more fully use his knowledge of carpentry.
Simon Muzenda’s political activities began “right from the time I was doing commissions in Cape Town for a Professor Taylor of the USA”. At Marianhill, he met with other men later to become prominent nationalists. Chikerema had come to there from Capetown, and Mutero and Silundika were at Marianhill. This was the time of the proposed Federation with Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. He was also influenced by the activities of the Rev. Michael Scott who was then fighting the Group Areas Act in South Africa.
Following the same pattern of political influence as most of his colleagues, Simon Muzenda brought his consciousnesses of the South African situation to bear upon his life and work when he returned home. He joined the famous Bulawayo leader, Benjamin Burombo, in his activities in challenging the racial situation in matters of land and employment. Muzenda took his interest in fighting against indiscriminate destocking of cattle. He remembers that his early hopes for a more liberal approach from whites had been raised in Domboshawa in 1944 when the Governor of Southern Rhodesia, Sir Evelyn Baring, visited the training centre, shook hands all round and promised the Africans would be uplifted. He was soon transferred to Kenya, Simon believes, as being too liberal and his belief was confirmed when he and others present at the Domboshawa meetings observed that Prime Minister Huggins “would not shake anyone’s’ hands”.
Social conditions in Bulawayo also aroused the attention of the emerging nationalist leaders. The Barbourfields Tennants’ Association was formed to try to improve conditions and Simon Muzenda worked hard to involve others, including the late Jason Moyo, in reforming the advisory board. There had been no elections to this board; but after, some activity on the part of the leaders, young people began to involve themselves in civic affairs, and the people insisted that annual elections to the board should be held.
In 1955, the Muzenda family left Bulawayo and settled in Umvuma. Simon had started his own carpentry business and his wife had a job as a nursing assistant at Umvuma Hospital. he continued his interest in politics in playing a part in forming the “Voice” (British African National Voice Association). He was its Secretary General in 1953, and worked with Burombo, its President, in fighting cases of injustice in the implementation of the Native Land Husbandry Act.
When the African National Congress began, in 1957 to open branches in the Southern Province (Fort Victoria (Masvingo) area) of the country, Simon Muzenda was involved in the committee stages. Those who were arrested in the area in 1959 were mostly Congress members from Nyasaland.
With the formation of the NDP in 1961, Muzenda became the chairman of the Umvuma branch. He was to move quickly to the task of Organizing Secretary for the whole province. When the NDP was banned and then replaced by the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZAPU) Muzenda became Administrative Secretary for the Fort Victoria (Masvingo) area. For saying the African prayer “Nehande Nyakasikana”1 he was banned from entering the African Reserves. The case went to the High Court in Fort Victoria (Masvingo) where he was defended by the late Herbert Chitepo, another of the great heroes of the Nationalist struggle. He was found guilty of two charges, cautioned and discharged. but he was soon to serve a prison sentence. When he addressed a public meeting in Shabani at the time of the banning of ZAPU in September 1962, rioting took place and he was arrested. Sentenced to 12 years (4 years each on three counts) , he had his time reduced from the concurrent serving of the three counts for four years, to half that time, and eventually spent two years in Salisbury (Harare) prison. “It became a place of study. We started G.C.E. and after 20 years I had to start from scratch. Then, even though we were in prison, we started ZANU”.
In the 1964, at the ZANU Congress Muzenda was elected Deputy Organizing Secretary but when the party was banned he was arrested “almost the same day”. He had been found in possession of a small starters pistol. Out on bail for two months he spent his time recruiting people for military training. He says it was easy to get people out in those days; they left with money “for school” in Malawi and then made their way to Ghana. the group he recruited was the first to get there when they “hitched a ride” on a plane that came to collect an Nkrumah dissident in Malawi. Others went for training in China.
After his trial, he was restricted to Wha Wha, Sikombela and Gokwe, and then sent to the maximum security prison in Salisbury (Harare) in 1965. He was released during the Anglo-Rhodesian negotiations in 1971.
Once again, Simon Muzenda used his time, as so many others did in prison, to improve his educational qualifications. He passed 8 O-levels and 2 A-levels and started on a Bachelor of Commerce degree course. He had passed several subjects when his release interrupted his studies. He was restricted to a radius of 10 miles of Umvuma but was appointed to the executive of the African National Council as its Secretary for Law and Order. Because he claimed that a carpenter needs to travel to acquire timber, he had his restriction extended to 65 mile radius of Umvuma, and this meant he could travel to Fort Victoria (Masvingo), Gwelo (Gweru) and Que Que. He was allowed to visit Salisbury (Harare) only with the permission of the police and this was granted for him to attend ANC meetings.
The ANC leadership decided to send him to Lusaka as its Deputy Administrative Secretary, to join the Secretary, John Nkomo. Their task was to join all the groups of nationalists, the various “wings” of the ANC, together to form the Zimbabwe Liberation Council (ZLC). But, after the “split at the top between Nkomo and Muzorewa,” Simon Muzenda “was forced to revert to my own political party, ZANU”.
He started organizing support for facilities for the youngsters in the camps in Zambia in 1974 and then moved to Tanzania, to Mgagao and other camps, co-ordinating the guerrilla activities. As a member of ZANU’s Central Committee he got in touch with Comrade Mugabe who had arrived in Mozambique earlier in the year and “we started co-ordinating together”.
The split in the nationalist leadership reappeared in 1975 when, as Simon Muzenda observes, “the whole problem started when they were to form the High Command.” Sithole made his attempt to dominate the ZLC (as reported by many others in these biographies). The leadership of Rex Nhongo, who was in Mozambique was pressed by ZANU. “I went to see Tongo in Lusaka Prison2“, says Muzenda, and at this time the Zimbabwe Independent Peoples Army (ZIPA) was started. While in Lusaka, Simon Muzenda returned to organizing the ZANU people there. He went to Sweden to raise money for those who were in detention or prison.
From December 1975, with 1600 ZANU cadres in Lusaka, Simon Muzenda was fully occupied co-ordinating activities with Mozambique, but after the Rhodesian attack in August 1976 on Nyadzonya, everyone was called to Mozambique for a discussion with President Samora Machel. (Muzenda says that all the leaders except Joshua Nkomo attended the meeting). He remained working in Maputo until a further attempt to bring the parties was made in Tanzania where, at a meeting in Dar-es-Salaam each person present “declared what he was”: Sithole declared himself ANC; Nkomo ANC (External). Moyo and others were working on the formation of the Patriotic Front. This was finally achieved in September 1976 in time for the Geneva Conference; and in October the remaining ZANU leaders, including Josiah Tongogara, were released from Lusaka prison in order to be able to go to Geneva.
The DARE (the organ of ZANU administration) was dissolved at this time, and the Central Committee, led by Comrade Mugabe, was formed to lead ZANU at Geneva. Simon Muzenda was deputy leader. After their return to Mozambique, the reorganized and restructured the whole party under Mugabe’s leadership and worked at their final war policy.
It was this organization that continued to prosecute the was from Mozambique for three years. then the success of the Lancaster House Conference brought Simon Muzenda home to take his place at the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as the country’s Deputy Prime Minister.
He has moved with his wife to a secluded private home in a Salisbury (Harare) suburb where he and members of his family are kept constantly busy with the new affairs of independent Zimbabwe. Most of his children (4 boys and 3 girls) have grown up and are studying or working. He tragically lost a daughter in the Chimoio raid in Mozambique, and his aged father died soon after his return home.
But Simon Vengai Muzenda gives the impression of being a man of immense patience, tolerance and wisdom. He has a gentle bearing and never raises his voice, and courtly manners appropriate for a man who has been chosen to forge international friendships for his hard-won country.
The following review of Simon Muzenda’s post-independence career was written by Diana Mitchell and appears in her 2021 memoirs
Simon Muzenda, Mugabe’s most trusted lieutenant, who became Deputy President in independent Zimbabwe (he died aged over 80 in September 2003) came from Masvingo and seemed exempt from the tribalistic choices that marked Mugabe’s appointments in the years following his 1980 election win. This was probably because of his age. When I first saw him in Harare, he looked old, but was clearly still fit and active. He would offer no threat to Mugabe’s leadership and he was respected by senior party followers despite his obvious lack of ‘higher’ education. He had great difficulty with reading his speeches in public, although a contributory cause of this might have been his weak eyesight.
He was a dignified man and particularly venerable-looking, with his short, greying beard and rimless glasses. His early training was as a carpenter, but his talent for African traditional storytelling and the loyalty he commanded from the former freedom fighters made him a popular, non-threatening deputy to the man who demanded unquestioning loyalty. Mugabe had given him an initial opportunity to prove himself capable in a cabinet post, but it became clear when he was seen in public that he could not cope with the demands of the portfolio of Minister of Foreign Affairs.
I had met him one morning in the ZANU (PF) offices at 88 Manica Road, Harare, rented during the run-up to the 1980 elections. Our conversation was interrupted by a commotion in the street outside. When it had calmed down I heard that a former freedom fighter had come into town wearing a military uniform and carrying a gun. He had positioned himself, lying on his stomach in the middle of the street and started to fire on passers-by, luckily he hit nobody. The man had clearly gone berserk. Muzenda seemed unperturbed when his aides rushed to tell him of the event.
I reminded him that we had spoken on the telephone when I had visited Lusaka five years earlier in search of my country’s future leaders. On that occasion he had refused to allow me to visit the Liberation Centre where many of his party’s military ‘cadres’ were assembled, saying he could not guarantee my safety. Ndabaningi Sithole had told me the same in his office in the State House in Lusaka.
Muzenda, at the Manica Road office said he would meet me for an interview at his private residence. His house was situated a few hundred yards from my own suburban home in Highlands. As soon as I could, I dashed down Hurworth Road to the T-junction where it joined the Enterprise Road, near the Arcturus Road corner where his house was situated. Clutching my ‘Who’s Who’ book, I presented myself to the guard at the gate using the book as my ID. I gained admission through Simon Muzenda’s guarded front gate.
“Please tell Comrade Muzenda (that obligatory salutation) that the writer of this book would like to speak to him”. I was immediately led into a large dining room where Muzenda and many others sat enjoying a late breakfast. His gentle and retiring wife, Maude, who was dressed in black, having lost a daughter in Mozambique during the liberation struggle, welcomed me and showed me a seat. A plate of cold, hard-boiled egg, cold sausage, and a slice of unbuttered bread was set before me and I was treated with great courtesy, being provided with a knife and fork.
I was sincerely touched when Muzenda, seated beside me, enquired after my political party leader, Pat Bashford. I regret to say that Muzenda was the only ruling party politician who deigned to recognise the great personal sacrifices of the doughty white farmer. Bashford was a post-World War 2 English immigrant who had given his all to counter Ian Smith’s Rhodesian Front party and its racially divisive and ultimately self-destructive policies.
Simon Muzenda asked me to invite Pat Bashford to call at his office. This story ends in disappointment: Pat made a sincere attempt to meet with him, journeying the 150 miles into the city from his Karoi farm to keep a pre-arranged appointment. He was by now an ailing, elderly man of considerable dignity. He told me resignedly, that he had been kept waiting, quite literally twiddling his large, farming hat in his hand. He had sat outside Muzenda’s office, squeezed onto a small bench between a peasant woman carrying a gift of a chicken and an impoverished, unwashed old man. These people had arrived, without appointments, to beg favours. While they waited, shifting uncomfortably on the hard bench, they pressed Pat for money. Good man that he was, he gave it to them. After four hours, Pat knew he was being deliberately insulted. He left to face the long journey home before darkness fell.
Simon Muzenda was to function, as an important part of the presidium along with an Ndebele co-President of Zimbabwe (Joshua Nkomo) to the end of his days. I was shocked by the extreme violence perpetrated on his behalf in March 1990 when he was contesting the Gweru urban seat against an opposition party candidate. In the heat of the general election campaign his chief rival, Patrick Kombayi was shot and seriously injured in the groin by agents of ZANU (PF). The attackers, whose names were known, were pardoned by Mugabe even after being found guilty of the crime. It was not known if Muzenda was directly involved in giving the order for the attack but my own view is that he did not need to do so. The country had gone a long way down the road towards killing with impunity and the agents responsible would have been acting on ‘policy’ designed to maintain Mugabe’s grip on power.